ASparagus

 

 
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Asparagus is a time-tested vegetable favorite. High in vitamin C and K, asparagus can be baked, boiled, grilled, or sauteéd and still retain its intense flavor. While asparagus takes some patience on the part of the gardener, its long start-up period is worth the wait. In fact, this resilient vegetable can grow for 30 to 50 years after it’s established.

 

 

climate-smart variety: vegetable

VarietiEs

Most of the asparagus you see in grocery stores is a Jersey variety.  Jersey Knight, Jersey King, Jersey Giant, and Jersey Supreme are reliable options that yield on the early side. Waltham Washington and Mary Washington varieties are also hardy, rust-resistant varieties frequently found in gardens. If you live in warmer climates, the Princeville variety will grow better.

Brock Imperial can provide high yields and, if you’re looking for a beautiful purple addition to your garden, Purple Passion is a gorgeous, uniquely colored variety - until it’s cooked when it loses much of its purple color.

 

 

WHERE ASPARAGUS THRIVES

Optimal type of soil

Asparagus grows best in a well-drained, sandy loam soil. Your typical garden soil will also work just fine for asparagus but a sandy soil that’s heavily composted and enriched will produce the best results.

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Optimal shade & sun

Asparagus, which has a lot of surface area in its foliage, likes to bask in the warm sun. So try to choose a sunny spot for your asparagus and protect it from wind if possible.

 


RESILIENCE

drought resistance

While asparagus takes a while to get started and needs a lot of water and fertilization at the beginning of its life, it can sustain itself through dry, drought conditions after it has matured and taken hold.

Regional compatibility

Asparagus can be grown almost everywhere across the contiguous United States. If you live in a rocky Northeastern zone take care to enrich your soil, especially when your asparagus is just starting out. Asparagus may also have a harder time getting going in regions where summers are especially long and humid.

Adaptability to climate extremes

Asparagus, once established, is highly adaptable to climate extremes. While the asparagus is still young, it’s important to keep it watered and fertilized in dry, hot climates and covered in freezing ones.


 
 

GROW IT

Planting

You can plant asparagus from seed or from store-bought plants. To prep the soil, first, make sure all weeds have been pulled from the soil.

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When growing from seed: 

Transplant germinated seedlings or sow directly into ground, ½” to ¾” deep, after daytime temperatures reach the 70s and 80s and nighttime temperatures dip no lower than the 60s. At the end of the summer, transplant the asparagus into its permanent garden bed (see below).

 

When growing from store-bought plants:

If growing from crowns, which are self-grown or year-old store-bought plants, plant in the spring in cooler regions or as late as fall and winter for especially warm regions. Asparagus crowns must be planted in trenches.

  1. Dig down 12 inches, take the excavated soil, and mix it in a wheelbarrow with compost.

  2. Place the crowns in the trench, and be careful to separate and untangle the roots.

  3. Cover the crowns with 4 to 6 inches of soil. As the asparagus grows and begins to emerge from the soil, continue to keep the shoots covered. Fill in the trenches with the extra soil and compost mix until the entire trench is level with the rest of the bed. This should take you through the first growing season.


Best time of year to plant

Plant during the spring or summer in moist soil. Can also be started indoors and transplanted outside.

Companion vegetables

Companion plants don’t work as well with asparagus because it requires a lot of nutrients, which weeds and companion plants can suck up. If possible, keep asparagus separate. If you can’t keep asparagus separate, the best options for companion planting are basil, parsley, lettuce, and tomatoes. When planting something close to asparagus, be careful not to disturb the delicate, shallow roots of asparagus crowns. If you plant asparagus with annuals, simply cut the plants at the base of the stem to leave the soil undisturbed.


 
 

Growing

Growing asparagus is a marathon, not a sprint, and you’ll need to keep in mind the long-term view while you wait for asparagus to take hold in your garden. Asparagus roots grow horizontally, not vertically, so eventually your asparagus will have a fairly dense, thick mat of intertwined roots.

In the first year, shoots will be thin and weak. Don’t harvest them until the second year at least when asparagus shoots thicker than a pencil can be harvested. Ideally, you can hold out until the third year when the asparagus will have had the time and care to establish their place in the garden. You may also see tall, ferny branches at the top of the plants.

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  WaterinG

Asparagus needs heavy, consistent watering when young. Keep beds moist but never soggy to reduce the risk of disease. Established asparagus will do just fine with less water. In areas of the country that get regular bursts of rain you won’t need to do any additional watering.  

 

Mulching

A layer of mulch can be applied on top of compost. { see Fertilizing }

 

Fertilizing

Asparagus loves fertilizer and has a big appetite for nitrogen as well. Compost is the best fertilizer you can add to your soil. We recommend a 50/50 blend of compost to soil when prepping beds for new crowns. You can add this to the planting trenches to reduce the amount of soil you have to till.

In addition to compost you can use a well-rounded fertilizer for newly planted crowns containing equal amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, such as a 10-10-10 or 15-15-15 blend preferably sourced from organic/sustainable sources. Avoid synthetic fertilizers. Note: It’s always recommended you test your soil before adding nutrients to avoid excess nutrients leaching into the surrounding environment.

Once the crowns are established, cover the beds in 1 to 2 inches of fresh compost each spring. If the leaves look yellow or weak consider adding a fertilizer with high nitrogen, such as a 10-5-5 blend. Be careful with nitrogen loading because it can produce plants with excessive foliage and poor root development.

Apply weed-free compost and then a layer of mulch or straw after harvesting and before the winter. In the spring, new spears will grow through the mulch and be much stronger for it. Don’t worry too much about over-fertilizing. Unlike many herbs, it’s hard to overdo it for asparagus.

 

Weeding

Weed your asparagus! Weeds can easily divert nutrients from your asparagus and, especially when young, keep it from becoming established in your garden.


CHALLENGES

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pests

In general, asparagus doesn’t suffer from many pests. Its one major foe is the asparagus beetle, which is about ⅓ inch long and can be hand-picked off asparagus when it’s too cold for them to fly. (Typically in the early morning and evening.) Removing plant debris in the winter will help keep asparagus beetles at bay because they will grow and develop in that debris in the off-season.

Diseases

Asparagus rust used to be an issue but most common asparagus types today have been bred to resist rust.

Particular growing challenges

As you’ve probably gathered, there’s a lot of waiting involved in growing asparagus. Be patient and try not get too frustrated with this late-bloomer of a vegetable.


 

HARVEST IT

 

Harvest

Asparagus requires patience. You may not be able to harvest it until its third growing season. If your asparagus looks mature enough by its second year, that is, its spears are thicker than a pencil, feel free to lightly harvest but don’t overdo it. Asparagus cultivation is all about investing early, and seeing high returns later.

When harvesting, cut spears at an angle or snap them off at about six inches long. Don’t pull up the roots in the process, and don’t miss your window — after spears begin to show, optimal harvest time runs less than a month long.

STORE

Asparagus deteriorates in quality pretty quickly after harvesting so try to harvest it just before cooking. It can be refrigerated for up to a week after first submerging the bottoms in water for a few minutes.

Preserve

Asparagus freezes well.

 


ENJOY

 
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Asparagus Vinaigrette from The Old Farmer's Almanac

Garlic Parmesan Roasted Asparagus from The Bell of the Kitchen